Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

retired to his residence in Ireland with his wife, one of the three Elizabeths "-he has commemorated as dear to him,-his mother, his queen, and his bride. A very few short years passed over his happy home, gladdened, too, by the voices of his children. The rebellion of Tyrone broke out; Kilcolman Castle was seized and fired by the rebels, from whom Spenser, with his wife and two young children, scarce escaped. His property, and the intellectual treasures of his unfinished writings, were in a moment destroyed; but, sadder far to think of, there perished in the flames the poet's infant child. Spenser hastened to London, and, after the lapse of a few weeks, -the inarticulate voice of his lost babe doubtless for ever sounding in his ears, the vision of its tender limbs wrapped in flames for ever burning on his fancy,-the author of the "Fairy Queen" breathed his last. He died at an inn: it has been said, heart-broken and starving;-this may be exaggeration;-but certainly heart-stricken and in need. Sydney was in the grave; Raleigh was far away upon the sea; Burleigh had no sympathy with the suffering bard; and Essex was not the quick friend he had found in others. "Spenser,

66

For all the glory that thy copious song

Pour'd on the great, what did they pour on thee?"

His body was buried in Westminster Abbey, by the side of Chaucer. His pall was borne by poets; and the last honour paid to him whose genius had been so purely devoted to elevate and beautify the ideal of womanly character was paid by a woman's affectionate reverence. A monument was erected by Anna, Countess of Dorset, with this simple inscription:- Here lies, expecting the second coming of our Saviour Jesus, the body of Edmund Spenser, the prince of poets in his time, whose divine spirit needs no other witness than the works which he left behind him. He was born in London, in the year 1553, and died in the year 1598."

66

In examining that literary period to which Spenser belongs, there is a department of poetry which it is necessary for me to allude to with much more brevity than contents me. I mean the Minstrelsy, which, having begun at a remote and unknown period of the language, is supposed to have flourished most in the latter part of the sixteenth century, and especially on the frontier between England and Scotland.

Let it be remembered that it was of one of these rude ballads that Sir Philip Sydney, immediately before the time of Spenser and Shakspeare, when more ambitious poetry failed to satisfy the longings of his imagination, said, "I never heard the old song of Percy and Douglass that I found not my heart moved more than with a trumpet."

89

The martial state of society among the border-population seems to have fostered a minstrelsy distinguished for the vivid energy of its strains, the boldness of its descriptions, and a wild intermixture of rough humour and simple pathos, which have rarely, if ever, been caught by even the best of its imitators. The border-life was one of perpetual danger and activity. Private feuds assumed somewhat of the dignity of national war; and the frequent themes of the minstrel were acts of lawless violence or the griefs of a widowed wife and a childless mother. The ballads have been handed down from generation to generation,-for the most part treasured only on the tablets of memory; but often in these fragments there is a force and a graphic reality which stimulates the imagination to a ready apprehension of the imperfect tale. For instance, in such a lament as this :—

[ocr errors]

BRITISH MINSTRELSY AND BALLADS.

"Hie upon Hielands,
And low upon Tay,
Bonnie George Campbell
Rade out on a day.
Saddled and bridled

[blocks in formation]

Among the ballads collected with such affectionate zeal by Sir Walter

Scott, there is one which has struck my fancy as describing the borderlife with even more than the usual animation. It is entitled "Kinmont Willie," and relates the rescue of a prisoner from Carlisle Castle by the Lord of Buccleugh: :—a very gallant exploit, and, what was uncommon, effected without bloodshed.

The boldness of the Scots in thus surprising an English fortress is said to have highly incensed Queen Elizabeth, and to have endangered the peace of the two kingdoms. When Buccleugh was afterwards presented to the English sovereign, tradition tells us that, in her peremptory way, she demanded how he dared to undertake an enterprise so desperate; and the undaunted chieftain's answer was, "What is it that a man dares not do ?"—a reply which so struck the queen that she exclaimed, “With ten thousand such men our brother of Scotland might shake the firmest throne of Europe."

At an advanced part of my course I shall have occasion to recur to the early minstrelsy, in showing how the revival of the study of it contributed to reanimate English poetry, and especially how, sinking into the heart of Walter Scott, it, more than any other external influence, made him what he was. How must the fire of his imagination have glowed with the restoration and perusal of this ballad, narrating, in its rude fashion, an adventure of his own clan, led on by an ancestor of his own chieftain, the Lord of Buccleugh. I shall quote such stanzas of the ballad as will keep the train of the story :

"Oh, have ye na' heard o' the fause Sakelde,

Oh, have ye na' heard o' the keen Lord Scroope?
How they ha'e ta'en bauld Kinmont Willie,
On Haribee to hang him up ?

"Had Willie had but twenty men,
But twenty men as stout as hé,
Fause Sakelde had never the Kinmont ta'en,
Wi' eight-score in his companie.

"They band his legs beneath the steed,
They tied his hands behind his back;
They guarded him, five some on each side,

And they brought him ower the Liddel-rack.

"They led him through the Liddel-rack,

And also through the Carlisle sands,
They brought him to Carlisle Castle,

666

To be at my Lord Scroope's commands.
My hands are tied, but my tongue is free,
And wha will dare this deed avow?

Or answer by the border-law,

Or answer to the bauld Buccleugh ?'
"Now haud thy tongue, thou rank reiver,
There's never a Scot shall set thee free;
Before ye cross my castle-gate,

I trow, ye shall take farewell o' me.'

[ocr errors]

KINMONT WILLIE.

"Fear na' ye that, my lord,' quo' Willie :

'By the faith o' my body, Lord Scroope,' he said, 'I never yet lodged in a hostelrie

But I paid my lawing before I gaed.' "Now word is gane to the bauld keeper

In Branksome Ha', where that he lay,
That Lord Scroope has ta'en the Kinmont Willie
Between the hours of night and day.
"He has ta'en the table with his hand;

He garr'd the red wine spring on hie: 'Now a deep curse on my head,' he said, 'But avengéd of Lord Scroope I'll be ! "Oh, is my helmet a widow's coif?

Or my lance a wand of the willow-tree?
Or my arm a lady's lilye hand,

That an English lord should lightly me?
"And have they ta'en him Kinmont Willie
Against the truce of border-tide,
And forgotten that the bauld Buccleugh
Is keeper here on the Scottish side?
"Oh, were there war between the lands,-
As well, I wot, as there is none,-
I would slight Carlisle Castell high,

Though it were built of marble stone "I would set that castell in a flame,

And sloken it with English blood: There's never a man in Cumberland

Should ken where Carlisle Castell stood. "But since nae war's between the lands,

And there is peace,-and peace should be,I'll neither harm English lad nor lass,

And yet Kinmont freed shall be.'

"He has call'd him forty marchmen bauld, Were kinsmen to the bauld Buccleugh.

"And as we cross'd the batable land,

When to the English side we held, The first o' men that we met wi',

Wha should it be but fause Sakelde?

6

"Where be ye gaun, ye hunters keen?'
Quo' fause Sakelde; come, tell to me.'
'We
go to hunt an English stag
Has trespass'd on the Scots countrie.'
"Where be ye gaun, ye marshal men?'
Quo' fause Sakelde; 'come, tell me true.'

[merged small][ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]
« PredošláPokračovať »